Three Weeks of Radiation

Almost 3 weeks in to my new RadioActive life and this is very different from the 3 days of my previous post. First of all, I can now see and feel the burn. Currently, it is more like a localized sunburn, which is certainly manageable. More on that later. For anyone who will need to embark on this journey, and for anyone who may support that person, I really have to back wing a bit to the Chemo effects.

    I know, you don’t need to tell me that you didn’t want to hear that, because as I’m living it, I didn’t want to have to either do that or tell you. BUT, it’s not really horrible, it’s just sort of that Chemo is still shaking the mud off its feet on my threshold. I want to emphasize that there’s this general perception with Chemo Treatments being over, the cancer patient is “all done” with Chemo, and, as you have already guessed, I’m here to tell you that’s simply something we all want to believe.
    When last I wrote, I’d stated that I was on “the utter brink of loosing 6 nails,” referring to both toe and finger nails. I now revise that. I just lost 2/3’s of my right thumb nail, and for the 5 others, I’m moving their eventual departure from “utter brink” to “very likely near future” (at this time I’m giving it a month).  Currently I’m experiencing a slight increase in the rate of new growth (I’m taking biotin and zinc to help this), and I believe the worst 3 nails left will crack off between 3/4 and 1/2 of the way down. Oddly, this seems very okay to me. I mean honestly, how much better does that come off in your own imagination? No nail vs partial nail. Note to self: tell doctor you’ve added biotin and zinc to your protocol, and remember to let readers know if that was okay, or some kind of blunder.
    Now other than that, 2 weeks ago I tried to start up my old workout and was exhausted after 2 minutes of stretching and 90 crunches. Remember this was 1 month after my last Chemo! I was terribly crushed and disappointed with myself. What kind of sorry state had I allowed myself to fall into? Even 2 months into Chemo I was doing 2-3 minutes of stretching, 150 crunches, and 5-10 minutes of brisk walking. So, two weeks ago, a month away from Chemo, I was beginning to feel better in general, what, oh what, could have happened?
    Here is a happier note. My body’s response two weeks ago was due to the continued effects of massive and destructive chemicals that were still swimming gaily through my muscle tissues. I had stopped working out because it didn’t feel better, it felt worse, and that was exactly as depressing 6 weeks before when I stopped, as my attempted return to it 2 weeks ago had been. With virtually no disciplined exercise since then, yesterday morning I did 3 minutes of stretching, 140 crunches, 50 “bicycles,” 5 minutes of arm weight lifts, 3 minutes of jogging, and 5 minutes of brisk walking. Today I matched that.
    Okay, I had to push, but my body let me push, and it felt good. Hallelujah. Hallel. Before this cancer thing started, I was used to a 20 minute workout followed by a ten minute walk. I’m more than halfway back baby. Please note: I’m not quite 2 months out of Chemo, and I’m not quite 1/2 way back to a mild workout, and I was in pretty good shape to begin with. Further note: I still really want to retire earlier in the evening than I ever have in my entire life, with the possible exception of infancy. Chemo is receding, it isn’t done with me.
 Which brings me back to Radiation! (yahoo) Have I mentioned that this treatment is 5 days a week? Yay. Okay, so it’s pretty much daily, but it has the advantage of getting me out of the house everyday. There’s that. AND it gets me motivated to workout early which now gives me more energy, not less, and I’m dressed and feeling quite human for most daylight hours.
   “What,” people ask me, “is Radiation like? What do they do?” I once thought I’d stand in front of a “Radiation Machine” and hold a position, and move slightly, and hold another position. However, what they have now is a narrow table, much like an operating table, that they add incliners and bolsters to so that they can position you at the best (for them) angles. The table raises and lowers and shifts back and forth. The Radiation Equipment then also moves, back and forth, side to side, up and around, maybe 3/4 of a circle to gain maximum access around the table.
    On the ceiling over the table they’ve installed a plexiglass light panel with the image of a beautiful view of tree branches in bloom, so you can have the “experience” of laying under a cherry tree on a warm spring day while you try not to think about laying partially exposed to several technicians in a chilly room. Of course you’re wearing a hospital wrap that by necessity is untied, and it amuses me endlessly that one technician or another will aid your modesty by securing the wrap so it doesn’t expose more of you than needed. It’s really a kind gesture. I’ve passed that level of concern, but it really seems to make them feel better, and I thank them.
    So, I’m almost 3 weeks in, and the burn is entirely manageable so far. This is because they give you “Radia Gel, Hydrogel Wound Dressing.” Please don’t scan over the words “Radia” or “wound” too quickly. That would be a disservice to the fine makers of this gel at Carrington Labs. I’m delighted to report that my current level of redness does not seem in anyway to be a wound at this point, I nevertheless suggest, if you ever have it handed to you by a doctor when it’s covered by your health care provider, don’t skimp on the Radia Gel, by which I mean — I suggest you not be frugal with it. I mean use it up. Go ahead and ask for more, they encourage that.  Just saying.
   Seriously. Use it before you think you need it. Liberally.
   Have I understated that? I feel like the idiot I was when I moved to Florida and was constantly reminded by friends, “Don’t forget to put on Sun-Screen,” and my olive-complected-Italian-from-my-mother’s-side-skinned-self thought “I never burn.” Well of course I burned, why do you ask?
    Only, with radiation, I didn’t think it would never burn, I just thought I didn’t need the gel until I noticed a burn. My good doctor told me twice, quite clearly, that I should use it BEFORE that happened, and thank g-d I listened the second time. But I’m thinking I didn’t use it soon enough, and I didn’t apply it thick enough. Just saying. Note to you Future-Radiation-Patients: The first time they ask you if you need more gel (and you don’t), ask for more anyway and try to stay ahead of them from that point on.
    Side note: The technicians, with a seriously important job to do, will tell you not to apply too much to the stickered marks in the treatment area. It APPEARS to me that the stickers may provide some protection for the skin, but DO apply it around the stickers in a safe way, and by safe, I mean, as close to the stickers as you can get without removing them. Like, right up to the edges.
    Everything I’ve told you so far is true, for me. Don’t hesitate to share with me what is true for you or the loved one you support. I’ve learned so much from friends. Like, I have a mild radiation burn on my throat right now and I’ve learned to ask if a shift in calculations could be considered, because someone I know needed reconstruction of her esophagus after Radiation Treatment. Wait! What!? At least let the professionals know what you’ve heard, it gives you both a fighting chance to avoid real concerns.
    Speaking of friends, I had the great joy, privilege and honor to visit some of my home-town peeps this past weekend. I left Friday after radiation, and returned Sunday night to be here for Monday morning radiation. Sigh. There was still a great weekend in there. My forever longtime friend Naomi (who had head radiation for an aneurysm 2 years ago, and is permanently bald as a result), allowed me to invite my longtime friend Amy (who is battling a cancer different from mine) to dinner on Friday. For diversity we invited yet another longtime friend Sherry, who has no health issues, but who is an acupuncturist, and who understands us all.
   Take a peak at our joyful celebration:
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   Yes, there is life during Cancer and other curve-balls. And, YAY (and I mean that this time), there is life after Cancer, and other equally-un-fun experiences of the we-never-asked-for-it variety. Rock-On with your bad self. If you can breathe, you can say thanks. If you can think, you can laugh — even if you’re in treatment.
   Check back, there’s more radioactivity to come.

13 thoughts on “Three Weeks of Radiation

  1. Thank you for the update, my courageous friend. From the description of your improving workout routines, I gather that you are doing better than you have in months, and I’m glad to read that. Also glad the nail loss appears to be less than expected. As you mentioned, you were very fit before this ordeal began, and I look forward to the day when we are enjoying bike rides and other activity together soon. Take good care of yourself and keep up the good work!

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  2. HI LOU GREAT ARTICLE AS USUAL WITH A FEW SURPRISES I DID NOT KNOW ABOUT YOUR NAILS CAN REBECCA DO SOME MAGIC WITH HER MANICURES/ WHAT DOES DR SAY ABOUT THAT ? how bad are the burns/ USR A TON OF CREAM CAN ADAM MAKE A MAGIC POTION/ NEXT SURPRISE WAS THE AMOUNT OF EXERCISE U WERE ABLE TO DO THAT FOR SURE WILL COME BACK WHEN YOU WILL GET STRONGER . AS FOR PICTURES WITH FRIENDS YOU LOOK LIKE THE DAUGHTER IS THAT A DIFFERENT WIG VERY VERY PROUD OF YOU LOVE LULU

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  3. I Love You! I am exceedingly more amazed by your spirit! Loved your teaching notes (they are a gift to so many) and I loved seeing the joy in the pictures on everyone’s faces! And I think I’ll just memorize and repeat your beautiful sentiment above daily to myself- “If you can breathe, you can say thanks. If you can think, you can laugh.” Thanks for that sis! Rock on with your bad self! Your workouts are already almost more than mine – yikes! xo xo

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  4. You are such a great example of what to do in the face of a huge challenge. You are strong and brave, but most of all, you are willing to share your experience and while help others.

    Like

  5. Despite 28 years working in oncology each one of your posts adds a new dimension to my understanding of women going through treatment for breast cancer. I am humbled by the realization that there is much I do not know despite trying to pay keen attention and be available to women.The way capture the nuances of the experience and then translate them into the written word is a gift. Not only do you educate others but your posts draw others closer to you by virtue of your honesty….. a win-win.
    Be well CG aka Luann and continue to celebrate the victories along the way!

    Like

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